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Why Los Angeles Is A Surprisingly Great City For Bike Sharing

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Despite its reputation as a mecca of cars, Los Angeles is actually very well-suited for bikes and bike sharing as biking become an increasingly common mode of transportation. The city is striping down lanes left and right, and a bike-share system will also only speed up this process.

Sometime later this year, Los Angeles County Metro will be launching its bike share program in Downtown Los Angeles. The 65 stations, stocked with about 1,100 bikes total, will be spread throughout the Downtown neighborhoods where condos are going up faster than Westside rents.

As the system develops and kinks are worked out, the system will spread to out to other cities and neighborhoods like Pasadena, Hollywood, and North Hollywood. Assuming everything works out, the long-range plan means publicly sharable bicycles will be available all over the city within the next decade or so.

When the stations begin opening up later this year, expect to pay $20 for a 30-day-pass that gives you an unlimited number of 30-minute or less rides, charging an extra $1.75 for each half-hour. Without a pass, you'll pay $3.50 per 30-minute trip.

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Of course, not everyone is not so excited about this idea. An L.A. Times Opinion piece by Justin Clark from last week argues L.A.'s bike share system to be is being set up to fail. Clark is accurate in pointing out how the Metro system will not be (immediately) interchangeable some other bike share systems popping up in Long Beach and Santa Monica. But his thesis on the high-cost per individual ride overlooks how a (relatively cheap) 30-day pass has the potential to reduce the cost-per-ride to virtually zero.

Bike shares are not a new idea, and Los Angeles has been somewhat (okay, quite) behind the curve* when it comes to building a sharing system. But let's take a second and reiterate all the reasons why bikes and Los Angeles go hand-in-hand, casting its "car-capital" reputation away and into the dustbin.

The weather is great. While other more eastern and northern, metropolises are condemned to months of freezing temperatures and snow-filled streets, Los Angeles' superior climate means you can ride a bike here year-round. The chance to be outside almost always is one of the great advantages of living here, yet we spoil it by locking ourselves in our cars and keeping the windows up. Why not be on the saddle instead, cooled by a breeze flowing through your short-sleeve shirt?

The city is pretty flat. Okay, so not entirely. There are certainly hilly parts of the city, but for the most part Los Angeles is a pretty flat place where people can relatively easy get from start to finish without having to climb a mountain.

There are plenty of safe streets. True, it's probably not a good idea to ride down Olympic Boulevard during rush hour unless you know what you
re doing. But that doesn't mean you can't ride on any of the infinite, residential streets that immediately parallel the road without much stress. L.A.'s "suburban" grid means every part of the city is connected together by relatively quiet residential streets. These streets are great for riding on, and offer you a little neighborhood architecture tour each time you ride on them.

The Metro can help you cover long distances. maybe you live kind of close to a Metro stop, but not close enough to walk. On a bicycle, a two-mile trip that would have taken thirty minutes to walk falls away into a leisurely ten minute cruise. Bikes are welcome on all buses and trains, but one of the advantages of riding a bike is that, depending on where you live in the city, you can probably skip the bus and head straight for the train. The same thing applies to your destination. Even if Metro rail doesn't go right to where you want to go, you can probably ride the distance between a station and your destination pretty quickly.

There is actually a lot of infrastructure. The L.A. City Council passed the Bicycle Master Plan in 2010, outlining a strategy to build an extensive network of 1,684 miles of bicycle lanes and infrastructure across the city. While we aren't there yet, Los Angeles (and lots of smaller cities like Santa Monica, Pasadena, and Culver City) have been ardently striping down lanes left and right, designating some sanctioned space on roads for people and their bicycles. Google Maps has a relatively comprehensive map of bike infrastructure, though it can sometimes be a little outdated as new lanes are painted. The L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) has a good site that's updated, but limited to only the city of Los Angeles.

There's an app for that. Last week, LADOT released an amazing app called GO LA can build directions involving multiple means of (the term is "multi-modal") transportation. Where Google Maps limits you to only walking, biking, or using transit, the GO LA App can combine all three. While I personally have only just started experimenting with the app, it's the perfect tool help people rethink how they get around the city without a car. You can learn more about it here at Streetsblog LA, and in a nice write-up by Alissa Walker at Gizmodo.

*L.A. almost managed to build a bike-share system back in 2012 when then Mayor Villariagiosa announced a partnership between L.A. and "Bike Nation," a private company. That proposal died, however, after it got caught by an advertising contract between the city and advertising CBS Outdoor, where Los Angeles had promised the company ad rights on "street-furniture" until 2021. Apparently bike kiosks are considered street-furniture.